What: Play by William Inge, directed by Max Heldring Stormes, presented by Kentwood Players
Where: Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., Los Angeles
When: Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through August 20.
Tickets: $18, $2 discount for students, seniors and military members
Information: (310) 645-5156, www.kentwoodplayers.org
Two and one half stars
By John Farrell
Like every play in the canon, William Inge's “Bus Stop,” which opened at the Kentwood Theater in Westchester Friday night for a run through August 20, ages with the passage to time and the change in people's attitudes.
When the play opened on Broadway in 1955, the public must certainly have been a little shocked at the attitudes of the four people who arrive by bus at a small cafe in Kansas and are stranded there overnight because of snow and the violent wind. There is Cherie, the non-too-innocent bar singer who has had a fling with Bo, the rodeo hero and is essentially being kidnapped by him back to his ranch in Montana, Bo himself and his wise friend Virgil and the Shakespeare-spouting Dr. Lyman, a charmer who is also a incipient child-molester on the lam.
Back then the play's comedy must have been mixed with serious questions about the play's sexually charged story, the serious doings of the bus driver and the waitress, Cherie's very serious concerns about kidnapping, Dr. Lyman's intent with the teenaged waitress. Fifty and more years later the Kentwood Players and director produced a work that is all charm and warmth despite the howling wind outside, but without any of the piece's hardly concealed menace. This is 2011, after all, and what was both unspeakable and unspoken in 1955 is hardly noticed nowadays. What was threatening then is no more than a sit-com now, and that is how “Bus Stop” comes across in Westchester, a homey episode of a very modern “Beverly Hillbillys” with even Granny getting some actions upstairs.
Cherie is Jessee Foudray, and her accent is right out of the Ozarks, her figure good enough to catch the attention of any man. She isn't quite afraid of the occasionally violent Bo Decker (Sam Hambrecht) but she doesn't want to go with him to his Montana ranch: at least at first she wants to continue her singing career. Bo, in a hat a little too big for him, is crazy and violent enough to get into an off-stage fight with the local sheriff, Will Masters, (John Russell channeling Matt Dillon) a bear of a man and a natural peacekeeper. Bo calms down after he has been knocked down, and only then reveals that Cherie is the first and only girl he has ever slept with. That changes her attitude towards him.
The cafe is run by Grace Hoyland, Valerie Ruel) a middle-aged woman who has seen everything and has been left by her husband years ago, and Elma Duckworth, (Janet Lee Rodriguez) a teenage charmer who isn't quite as innocent as she seems. Grace sneaks upstairs for an assignation with bus driver Carl (Neil Engelman.) Dr. Gerald Lyman (David Kunzle) is also along for the ride, a many-times married alcoholic and college professor who has, we find out, been chased from Kansas City for seducing under-aged girls. And there is Virgil Blessing, (Andy Grosso) Bo's best friend and the one voice of reason in the crowd: he ends up alone and standing out in the cold.
Cherie is the center of attention in this crowd (the role was played in the movies by Marilyn Monroe) and she has all the charm and personality needed to be the center of that attention and convey Cherie's slowly growing realization of her love for Bo. Bo isn't quite up to that: he yells effectively and storms around a bit but is never quite convincing. Dr. Lyman is full of quotations and no menace at all, and Elma is hardly taken in by him, though she enjoys the attention. Grace and Carl make a good-hearted pair and Virgil, in a small role, makes more of his character than anyone else.
“Bus Stop” may not be over the hill, but here it is a social comedy, full of the feeling of the plains: wind and weather and cold loneliness, but not a single jot of the embarrassment and menace it had half-a-century ago. It isn't a drama at all.
John Farrell is a Long Beach theater critic. More of his reviews can be found at [email protected]